Special Topics in Language and Literature


Nicole Higgins


Contemporary African American Poetry

“I’ve come here to lash out / I’ve come here to reclaim my tenderness / Which is not linear and I’m trying to remember...” –Harmony Holiday

This course will explore a range of African American poetry written since 2008. Many rushed to hail the moment, with the election of the first Black president, as a turn to a “post-racial” America. Instead, it was marked by ongoing and increasingly visible racial violences. The variety of witness-bearing responses from Black poets in particular invites an exploration of the relationships between their culturally-informed poetics, Black life, and the American literary canon. How are contemporary Black poets contending with historical notions like “art for art’s sake,” or the Black Aesthetic? How do they navigate the lived and psychic experiences of race in their poems? What kind of space is made for the concurrent parts of their identities, both on and off the page? How are these considerations shaping the landscape of American poetry in the 21st century?

Likely texts include: Jericho Brown’s The Tradition, Camonghne Felix’s Build Yourself a Boat, Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, and Avery R. Young’s booker t. soltreyne: a race rekkid.

Open to all majors and levels. No prerequisites, no exams. In addition to thoughtful participation in class discussions, students will write short reflection papers, and either a longer critical essay or short collection of poems + critical introduction.

Topics vary each semester.
Typically Offered